Measuring Up

Having just celebrated its first anniversary, the Approved Learning Partner (ALP) – Student Tuition programme provides a quality benchmark for tuition providers offering ACCA courses. The programme was set up to help students access high quality tuition by identifying and accrediting those providers which meet (or even exceed) ACCA’s global, best practice standards. ACCA recognition is represented by Gold or Platinum accreditation status, and reflects the fact that the tuition provider has met – and continues to meet – a range of challenging performance targets.
Once accredited, a tuition provider has access to a range of development opportunities and other tools, developed by ACCA. These include online and customer support, improved marketing resources, and post-exam analysis tools which help teaching staff identify strengths and weaknesses across the curriculum. To keep their accreditation status, tuition providers have to continuously maintain their high quality standards; ACCA monitors the performance of all tuition providers in the programme and, in particular, takes formal student complaints very seriously, even removing a tuition provider from the accredited list if a complaint is not dealt with satisfactorily.
Could your tuition provider be accredited?
The ALP programme is designed to highlight the best, but there are many excellent, non-accredited tuition providers operating all around the world, and ACCA is keen to encourage as many as possible to apply for accreditation, both to extend your choice as ACCA students, and to ensure the highest standards are practised as widely as possible. As part of this drive, ACCA recently appointed Jonathan Mbewe as tuition support manager. ‘There are many tuition providers out there that could quickly and easily become Gold or even Platinum ACCA accredited,’ says Mbewe. ‘There are also many that may not be successful on their initial application but which only need to make a few changes in order to make the grade. My job is to help tuition providers achieve accreditation by highlighting the areas that need improvement, and then working with the provider to reach the standard required.’
And students can play a vital role in this process, by both encouraging their college to apply if they think it good enough, and by taking part in the accreditation process itself.
In particular, the assessment of student feedback is a crucial part of the accreditation process, and so it is important that a college gives students ample opportunity to comment on the quality of tuition provided, that students take advantage of this opportunity, and that their comments are taken seriously. ‘We expect to see mechanisms for student feedback already in place when we first assess a college as suitable for accreditation,’ says Mbewe. ‘Feedback can take many forms, including questionnaires, formal meetings, or even an informal chat with a member of staff. The important thing is that feedback is encouraged, and action taken when issues are raised.
‘The ACCA accreditation team always analyses any feedback that the college has received, and assesses the ways in which the tuition provider has responded. The team also meets students face to face to get a more personal opinion of the tuition provider and the quality it delivers. This is an important part of the accreditation process and we encourage students to take advantage of this opportunity to get involved if their college is being accredited.’
Keeping standards high
Sustained performance is a condition of ongoing accreditation, with ACCA proactively helping tuition providers if standards seem to be slipping, especially exam pass rates, often a key discriminator for students selecting a tuition provider. ‘We give ALPs the tools to formally monitor pass rates,’ explains Mbewe, ‘and by comparing and analysing exam performance over time, we can help a tuition provider spot any negative trends. We look at performance across papers, identifying specific courses or even specific tutors who are no longer delivering to the level of quality required. We can then work with the tuition provider to change the teaching programme in order to address the issues we have uncovered, thereby helping them maintain the quality of tuition their students are expecting.
‘For example, many tuition providers assume that all ACCA exams will require the same teaching time, but this is not the case – and it can also be true that some lecturers can cover more ground in a shorter time than some of their less experienced colleagues. We can help a tuition provider structure its timetable to accommodate these variables, resulting in a more sophisticated approach to course delivery. Continuous student feedback, once again, is crucial here, as it identifies ongoing issues and gives support to any changes.’
Finding the right tuition provider
There are now 186 ALPs with Gold or Platinum status, but despite the continuous efforts being made to increase this number, ACCA is keenly aware that not all students have the chance to enrol with an approved tuition provider. However, this does not mean that non-accredited providers cannot offer the quality of tuition provided, or that students should shun formal tuition altogether.
For example, students can use the ALP programme’s standards to assess tuition in their local area, looking for those providers offering a similar level of quality. This guidance can prove highly valuable as students are often faced with a bewildering range of options, especially if they live or work in an urban area with a strong financial services sector, where many different providers offer different courses, taught using a variety of study methods. Every student’s learning style, objectives and life/work commitments are different, and it’s often difficult to judge, simply from a prospectus, which is the most suitable provider. And what seem to be obvious indicators – a prestigious building, for example, or having been in business for many years – are not always signs of excellent teaching.
The guidance given by two ACCA ALPs (see below) gives some valuable pointers on how to assess tuition providers, and Mbewe also has further advice: ‘Our message to students is to go to a tuition provider if at all possible, even if only for the final revision stages before an exam. We fully appreciate that many students study alone because they have limited funds or there are no local tuition providers available of the quality required. But good tuition can greatly improve a student’s chances of exam success, saving money in the long term by reducing the time required to achieve the ACCA Qualification and thereby to start earning a decent salary as a finance professional.
‘There are tuition options which all students can consider. For example, if a student cannot attend classes in person, many ALPs offer distance learning or online tuition which may provide a viable alternative. And if a student has to choose between non-accredited tuition providers, then there are clear marks of quality which they should look for. As well as good exam pass rates, students should assess the calibre of the teaching staff (for example, are they ACCA qualified themselves?), and the quality of the materials used (are they from the ACCA Official Publishers BPP or Kaplan?) together with the support materials on offer. In addition, students should look at course structure and design. Does it seem well planned? Does it include timings for assignments, feedback sessions, mock exams, and so on? In addition, many colleges teach course content but not exam technique, when good technique can mean the difference between success and failure. In essence, students should look for a tuition provider which does not treat ACCA as a money-making opportunity, but instead wants to deliver a high quality education.’
A new initiative from ACCA, the study school, should also increase student access to quality tuition. Held regularly in venues all over the world, an ACCA study school gives students the opportunity to meet ACCA representatives and to attend sessions on specific papers given by experienced lecturers. The schools also look at study techniques, and encourage students to go on to enrol at a tuition provider in order to progress their studies further. And to help them in this search, ACCA provides the ACCA Tuition Provider List, an online, searchable directory of tuition providers teaching ACCA qualifications; these tuition providers have not been formally assessed by ACCA but, together with the Gold and Platinum status ALPs, can provide the starting point for the search for the ideal tuition provider. Go for a full list of tuition providers.
Two recently approved tuition providers give their reasons for joining the ALP programme, and highlight the crucial role that students play in helping a tuition provider achieve accreditation.

Mercury Institute, Colombo, Sri Lanka
Established in late 2001, the Mercury Institute has been an ACCA Approved Learning Partner, Gold status, since 2002. Managing director TP Raj was determined from the start to establish a high quality teaching environment, and knew that ACCA accreditation would play an important role in his plans for the school. ‘I applied for ACCA Gold status as I wanted the Mercury Institute to be seen as the best tuition provider in the region. The quality of our teaching has always been exceptional, and our pass rates, as a result, much higher than the global average.
‘Our students are closely involved in our development and, therefore, were very important to the accreditation process. We have a feedback questionnaire for every ACCA course we teach; this gives students the opportunity to tell us directly where they think we are falling behind. Based on this feedback, prompt action is always taken to change lecturers in order to maintain the required quality of tuition.’ It’s a strategy which clearly works, as a number of Mercury Institute students have won ACCA prizes, including the prize for the December 2007 Paper P5 exam.
Student involvement also brings added benefits: ‘Students represent the goodwill of an institution,’ says Raj. ‘This, together with their loyalty, brings greater recognition to the institute, which continues when they become alumni.’
So what should students look for when assessing tuition providers in their own regions? Raj recommends judging providers on a range of criteria: ‘First look at the lecturing staff and assess their knowledge and competency – a dynamic lecturing panel is the sign of a tuition provider with experience. Then consider past exam results, looking for a level of reliability as this indicates a better chance of success. In addition, it is important to find a tuition provider that cares about the student body, and which considers students as customers and acknowledges complaints. Students must also feel that the tuition provider is offering value for money, and is transparent about what a student will receive in return for their fees. Students must never feel that the six months they plan to invest in a semester could be a waste of time or money.’
Management and Accountancy Training Company (MAT), Kampala, Uganda
‘MAT was founded in 1998 by highly experienced ACCA tutors and educators,’ says managing director Jeff Thompson. ‘Our vision was to become a leading tuition provider in the East African region. As a result, the quality approach required to become ACCA accredited was in place right from the start.’

MAT became a Gold status ALP in 2007: ‘To gain our accreditation we mainly had to polish up some of our processes – very little needed to be done to improve the quality of our teaching,’ explains Thompson. ‘We have found, however, that by imposing some additional discipline internally we have improved the overall effectiveness and efficiency of our administration.’
As part of the approval process, MAT students studying at different levels were interviewed in private by ACCA’s accreditation team, providing an additional audit of MAT’s tuition and administration. ‘This was vital,’ comments Thompson: ‘Student involvement brings great value to the accreditation process and is an independent check on the claims of the potential ALP. Detailed student feedback can also reveal new issues previously not considered. In our case, for example, students suggested making some changes to the lecture assessment process; these changes encouraged more students to participate, thereby improving the number and quality of responses. Our students also identified some shortcomings in our communication strategy – as a result we are soon to publish a student handbook.’
When considering possible tuition providers, Thompson advises students not to worry if there are no ACCA accredited colleges near by: ‘We are very proud of our ALP Gold status, but we enjoyed an excellent reputation as a high quality tuition provider long before we were officially accredited by ACCA.

‘In essence, students want a tuition provider able to provide the guidance required to help them pass their exams, and this guidance has many components. First, a tuition provider must have knowledgeable and experienced tutors, able to deliver a structured teaching programme which includes advice on study options and tutorial support. However, teaching is difficult to assess unless a student sits through the same course in a number of different places, so other indicators must be used. These can include the quality of facilities, staff responsiveness to student enquiries, and the quality of notes and textbooks provided. It’s very useful to speak to other students; in Uganda, for example, there is a very good informal student network, supported by the national ACCA office, and students can use this to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of providers.’